Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Alive and kicking... at a school near you

A surprising revelation came today in the form of a survey report suggesting that streaming, far from having "pretty much died out", is still practised in schools - to the extent of one in six UK pupils aged 7. I must admit I'd been under the impression it had fallen into disfavour along with the 11+ and grammar schools, and so, it seems, was the report's author.

I remember so little of my infants' classes at Corsham County Primary School that I've no idea whether I was streamed or not by the age of 7. Being a small-ish village school, I would suspect not as there probably wouldn't have been enough of us to make more than one class. Minden Row Junior School was a different story, where my school reports show that from the 'Reception' class, I was put up a year, to Class 2A and then 3A and finally 4A - bearing out the report's finding that autumn-born children are 'over-represented' in the top stream. That isn't altogether rocket science, though, as because of the way school years and initial start dates are set, autumn-born children will normally - unlike me - be the oldest in the class.

Going on to Leamington College for Boys, I was in a non-streamed First Form, but thereafter once again in the top stream - although in the 4th and 5th Forms (the modern Years 10 & 11) for most of our O level subjects we were taught in 'sets', made up according to the number of pupils wanting to take that particular subject. Only for English, Maths and French I think were we taught as a Form.

Without reading too much into the report's conclusion that pupils with "behavioural problems" are more likely to be in the bottom set, it has to be said I think that an awful lot of difficulties arise if you try and teach a mixed-ability class with a wide differential between the most able pupils and the least able - because straightaway you start with a mismatch between teaching level and ability, the frustration and boredom from which is liable to make the problem worse. And everything gets dumbed down to the average - or in the worst cases, to the lowest common denominator.

It's been suggested that 'setting' for areas like literacy and numeracy (aka English and Maths) is a good idea. Possibly. I started off, according to my Junior school reports, having a reading ability in advance of my age group, but at one stage was getting only D or E+ for Maths. Whereas by the time I took my O levels, I got a Grade 2 for Maths, but only a 6 for English Language.

It'll be interesting to see how the pupils who were studied in the survey have fared in ten years' time.

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